Friday, November 25, 2011

A lot to be thankful for

It's been over a month since Fair Hill, but I can remember each fence on the cross country course like I rode it yesterday. It was a miserable week in the rain - mud up to our ankles, making keeping the horses clean for jogs and dressage just about impossible. I got there before it really poured on us, so I was lucky to get my trailer parked in a spot close to my barn and park the truck where I could get in and out. Spike the puppy and I stayed in my trailer all week... I am almost all set up now including a generator to keep me warm and entertained. But it's pretty amazing how little free time you have even with only one horse at an event. There's hacking, cleaning the stall, cleaning tack, feeding, carrying this and that around - really no spare time to waste. And walking cross country. Holy cow it takes a long time to walk a CCI** course!! It's an almost nine minute course to ride, and over an hour and a half to walk. I walked it three times - once alone in the rain with Spike along for a run (half the course I had to carry him four pounds gets heavy FAST), once in the rain with Packy, and again in the rain I ran around checking out a few particulars. Very busy week.

The first jog was uneventful with the rain holding off on our group, thank goodness. It was chilly but not cold, actually almost too warm in the evenings to cover them up. Dressage was also good to me as far as the weather, even though the footing was very deep and pretty much one big puddle in the arena. Toga was very well behaved, and in the big picture did one of his best tests yet. We blew the first turn on the haunches, and he jigged once in the walk, but he gave me real medium trots and canters. I was very pleased with it. We got our usual mediocre score, but at least it was not at the bottom.

Only one jump was taken off course for cross country. The footing at Fair Hill is pretty amazing, and the fact that it isn't ridden on at all except for the show helps. They also asked that spectators not walk on the course, and for the first time I realized how much that is to the competitor's benefit to make that request. After hundreds of course walks, just the human footsteps can tear the ground up at take off and landing points. At the top of a bank, for example, it was obvious where people had been walking, and a lot of the grass had been worn away. I will pay more attention when I'm walking someone else's course in the future. There were some very deep spots, but I felt Toga could manage it.

On the long walk to warmup Toga lit up. He was keen to jump and I had to keep him moving. Knowing that this would be his longest run ever, I tried to keep it calm but it wasn't easy. I did get into the box on my own, and he instantly settled into a great gallop. The first quarter of the course seemed to be the deepest, and I tried to stay as close to the rope as I could get and stay out of everyone else's tracks. He jumped easily through the bank to corner ABC where I watched a lot of people have trouble earlier that morning. I was pretty indecisive at the double brush, which translated to Toga saying "WHERE do you want me to jump from???" and he twisted in the air over both. But straight through good boy.

Again I was thankful for having such an honest and eager horse at the ABCD mushrooms across the road. Packy told me to be careful jumping down the bank, and I found out what he was talking about when we got in a little too close to the out and T almost tripped up the bank on the other side. But instead of running out at the skinny coming right at us, Toga took charge and went right to it. I took out the flag with my toe because we got to it a bit on an angle, but he got over it instantly and jumped perfectly through the duck pond water which had taken its toll on a lot of other riders that day. And he skipped around the rest of the course. He galloped steady and strong the whole trip, and we finished only one second over the time. SO cool. The fact that there was so much time between fences helped us both I think to organize our thoughts, chill out, and ride a plan. Had some nice chats with T on our ride. And we had time to listen to the cheers of his fans without getting distracted and screwing up :) He acted like he wanted to go again when we pulled up gotta love an OTTB. But we were missing a front shoe and I had no idea where, so no idea how long he'd been running on a bare foot. At that point I was happy for the sloppy footing to some degree.

Toga jogged sound Saturday evening, and fine on the grass Sunday morning, but as soon as we hit the pavement I heard him limp. The vet would have let me re-present him, but there was no way I was going to jump him no matter what. We really were not sure what was bothering him at the time, but I wouldn't take a chance. So we walked back to the barns and I have to say it was difficult to keep back the tears. This had been my goal for the last couple years, and to have it cut short was hard. Worse still was that Toga could be seriously hurt, I still didn't really know what was wrong.

Turns out it was a bruised heel (which wasn't obvious for a couple days) and within the week he was sound. So even though I didn't get to finish the two-star, I ran around cross country better than most, had a BLAST doing it, and have a sound horse to move on with.